The 2009 Canadian university football season is kicking off in less than a week. Seeing as I was a member of the Western Mustangs broadcast crew for the last three seasons, who better to examine the Mustangs chances of winning their third-straight Yates Cup championship than me? Mind you, I wish I was still in London because it’s shaping up to be a good year at T.D. Waterhouse Stadium.
Key Players: Michael Faulds (QB), Jesse Bellamy (Rec), John Surla (LB) Craig Butler (DB)
Key Transfers: Josh Svec (Rec), Da’Shawn Thomas (RB)
Key Losses: Matt Carapella (DB), Vaughn Martin (DE), Corey McNair (DB), Richard Zulys (OL), Jon Hood (LB)
Rookies To Watch: Jason Schuler (QB), Shane Bergman (OL), Scott Fournier (DL), Jerod McCrory (LB), Liram Hajrullahu (K)
This season, it looks to be the offense that will carry the load for the Mustangs. If you recall back to last season, it was the defence that was supposed to be the key to the Mustangs having any chance of repeating as Yates Cup champions. In the early weeks, it was the defence that really helped out the ‘Stangs (especially at Laurier). However, it didn’t take long for the Mustangs offensive unit to gel and become the most feared offensive unit in the OUA.
The offense is led by Hec Crighton hopeful Michael Faulds. The fifth-year player has been the lynchpin to the Mustangs offense for four years now with his role growing gradually over time. In the time I’ve been at Western, it’s been a run-first offense. With Faulds and the depth at receiver, I would figure that we’ll see the Mustangs air it out more often this season. We’ll just see how Faulds’ downfield awareness is because he’s more than willing to take chances deep to his detriment. At receiver, Faulds now has a depth chart that will read something to the effect of Jesse Bellamy, Josh Svec, Nick Trevail, Zach Bull, and Nick Pasic. That’s not including redshirt freshman Ryan McCarthy who I’ve never seen but I hear might contend for a roster spot.
Mind you, it’s not like the Mustangs are hurting in the back field. New recruit Da’Shawn Thomas is said to be the real deal. He was on the Toronto Argos practice squad until recently when he registered at King’s College. So Thomas joins a log-jam at the top of the depth chart for tailbacks with Jerimy Hipperson, Ben Roberts, Nathan Riva, John Leckie, and Ryan Tremblay. Of course, some of them might be used as receivers or only in special teams but that still makes too many players for not enough roster spots. Specifically, Tremblay has gotten time at receiver in the pre-season game against Laval. However, given Hipperson and Roberts’ propensity for injury, I don’t think that log-jam will last too long. However, the strong air and ground attacks have to make the Mustangs the most feared offensive team outside those that play home games at the PEPS.
On the defensive side, the Mustangs have a little rebuilding to do. Their biggest loss is hard-hitting interception vacuum Matt Carapella. Almost as noteworthy is the loss of his partner in the secondary, Corey McNair. And the Hrytzak brothers in the front seven. Oh, and there’s that Vaughn Martin guy who left the comfort of the Western D-Line for the greener pastures of the NFL and the San Diego Chargers. The man who has to step up is Craig Butler. In last year’s playoffs, he was the biggest playmaker for the defence and can be the leader of the defence if he can channel that performance from last year. Josh Foster and Harold Mutobola will also have to step up to fill the void of Carapella and McNair in a Western secondary that wasn’t exactly a shutdown set in 2008. Aaron Handsor and freshman Mike Spence were said to have played well against Laval during the pre-season game so I wouldn’t be surprised to see them take the field during the season opener. The linebacking core remains largely unchanged with Conor Elliot stepping in for the departing Jon Hood so I don’t see any drop off there. On the line, look for Mike Van Praet and Chris Greaves to step up to fill the void left by Vaughn Martin. I’m not so worried about who will fill in for Martin on the line as I am about who will fill in for Martin in Coach Marshall’s Truck Package. The goal line package is a signature formation for the Mustangs and always brings the crowd to its feet. We’ll have to wait a couple of weeks until the Truck Package rumbles its way toward the end zone.
It’s important to note that the Western student union and Mustang Athletics have reached an agreement that all regular season home games will have free student admission. However, this will not apply to the Homecoming game (not that it’s ever needed an attendance boost). Also, obviously, the playoff games, which saw Mustang student pride come under much scrutiny, won’t be free either. We’ll have to see if students are willing to fork out $15 per home playoff game again. Folks I knew were getting very reluctant by the time the Mitchell Bowl rolled around.
Sept. 6 at Ottawa Gee-Gees
Sept. 12 vs. Laurier Golden Hawks
Sept. 19 at Windsor Lancers
Sept. 26 at Guelph Gryphons
Oct. 3 (Homecoming) vs. McMaster Marauders
Oct. 8 vs. York Lions
Oct. 17 at Queen’s Gaels
Oct. 24 vs. Toronto Varsity Blues
(Not Scheduled: Waterloo Warriors)
The Mustangs would have liked to keep Waterloo on the schedule but York and Toronto are close enough to gimmes that the Warriors won’t be missed. Like last season, the Mustangs have Ottawa and Laurier in the first two weeks so it won’t be an easy start to the season. Fortunately, they have Laurier at home which should give a small edge to Western. Also, the game at Queen’s is later in the season so Western will have hit its stride by that point in the season. The bonus for Western is that they won’t have to worry about the crazed Homecoming crowd for the second year running. Having been there last year, Queen’s Homecoming was an otherworldly experience and it can only help the ‘Stangs not to play in Kingston that weekend.
It certainly looks as though everything is going Western’s way heading into this season. A third-consecutive Yates Cup championship is well within their reach. This might even be their year to take home their first Vanier Cup since 1994.